The stories we believe inform how we think, speak and act. They shape who we are and who we will become. The Santa Claus story is one of the three main stories of Western Philosophy, along with the story of Christ and Capitalism.
Many people want to ban Santa. The atheists do, the anti-capitalists do, and the fundamental religious want to as well. All of these groups see the story of Santa as competition for the story they are selling. But Santa endures. The story of the fat jolly man in the red suit endures in the face of continued ridicule and claims its sinful, because it teaches virtues, values and wisdom that children and adults can use to make their individual lives better, and by doing so, protect, maintain and advance the best aspects of Western Civilization.
Why do we pass on the story of Santa to the next generation? I used to believe it was a concerted collective conspiracy to inculcate kids for the purpose of keeping them in line and grooming them for their future of blind obedience to authority figures. I saw it as the first great lie children are told by their parents and society (the first of many) as a means to contain their near limitless energy and potential. After researching more about the archetypal meanings of ancient stories, I now see the story of St. Nick in a whole new light.
Children can become anything according to the stories they are told. They can become high-powered lawyers, hippies or headhunters depending on what values they assimilate or reject from the stories they hear. Children are wired to respond to and to think in stories. Instinctively, all children desire to know how to survive and thrive in the adult world, and they devour stories from their parents and the wider culture in which they live, to do accomplish this. The story of Santa Claus and the accompanying rituals can help children learn the lessons which can help them become well adjusted, compassionate, responsible, successful adults.
The Santa Story is well known throughout the entire world. The basic components of the myth are that children must “believe in Santa”, they must “be good all year”, they must “write him or speak to him to tell him what they want”, and they must “offer a sacrifice of cookies and milk” before he gives them their gifts. The entire narrative is structured in a way to teach the absolute best values which underpin the Western Philosophy of thought.
- Belief in a better world – One must believe in Santa Claus, who represents the “GOOD FATEHR”, who in archetypal terms represents Culture, Tradition and Reason. Belief is an individual choice. Western thought is based upon the idea that the individual is sacred and is responsible for the choices he makes. As kids age they find out from their peer group that Santa doesn’t exist as the story states. They usually find out from their peer group that Santa doesn’t physically exist. This is one of the few coming of age traditions in the West and helps the child to leave the childish thoughts behind and explore explicitly the formerly implicit lessons, values and wisdom that the story of Santa teaches. The belief that if you believe in a better future, work hard, set goals and sacrifice to make them happen is the archetypal residue left imprinted on the child’s subconscious, whether they realize it or not. I’d urge parents to consider teaching children the true meaning of the Santa myth and its significance when the revelation of Santa not being real is found out.
- You better be good for goodness sake – The 24/7 surveillance Santa and his Naughty and Nice List, at first glance seem like the prototype for the NSA but in reality they are metaphoric devices that teach children lessons about the power of the choices they make. The constant surveillance and yearly judgment by Santa teaches kids that they have the free will to choose to be “bad or good”. They also learn that if they are “good” (defined by their parents teachings and culturally appropriate behavior) they’ll be rewarded in the form of presents at Christmas. This helps children practice deferring gratification. This skill to sacrifice immediate gratification for long term gain is one of the main predictors of a child’s chance at success later in life. Being judged as good or bad also helps children to regulate their emotions. This goes along with the deferring gratification. In the moment it feels good to do bad but the long term consequences of such rash behavior motivated by anger, envy, jealousy or fear are negative. Kids at this age need boundaries as well. I used to think this was a part of the story that was added to create easily controlled conformist non-thinkers who wouldn’t question authority later in life. In reality, the lessons kids learn about being good at this age are for the most part extremely valuable. What are kids taught when they are young? Pick up your toys (learn organization), learn to share and not steal (learn to trade), be respectful to their parents (respect the traditions of the past), and follow the rules of the tribe. These are what children need to learn at an early age. In a broader context as well it teaches that you must produce in order to consume. It’s only after a year of good behavior will the child be rewarded.
- Asking for what you want – On the surface it seems ridiculous to teach kids to write letters to a god who lives in the North Pole or to speak in person to him. But these are skills which are actually beneficial. Having children “ask” with words what they want helps them to begin the life long process of goal setting. It’s a well established fact that people who write down their goals are more successful then people who don’t. This proto-goal-setting exercise helps them to clarify their thinking, begin to learn about opportunity costs, and about speaking into existence an imagined better future. And what do kids mostly ask for? They ask for toys and games. Children learn the rules of life by playing games and playing with toys. Remember, Santa represents the Good Father which represents Culture, Tradition and Reason, he is brining them toys to help them learn how to behave and thrive within the society they live in.
- Leaving Milk and Cookies – The tradition of leaving out the Milk and Cookies is akin to a pagan sacrifice of the old days. Sacrificing the best of what you have or your favorite thing to a deity in the past was a symbol of your ability to negotiate with the future, through work and sacrifice, to create a better life for yourself and those you love. This helps kids further experience through ritual action the values that will serve them well in life: that you have to produce before you consume, that humans respond to the law of reciprocity, and that sacrificing a tasty treat which could be enjoyed in the present for something better in the future, will lead to a better future down the road.
- Presents Under the Tree – There isn’t much more magical then running down the stairs to open presents on Christmas as a child. What appears to be simple consumerism driven by the “evil capitalists” is actual a critical part of a child’s maturation process. Many unseen lessons lurk behind the bows and wrapping paper. Toys and games are the way that a child learns about his or her internal and external environment. Also, the surprise aspect of opening wrapped Christmas presents helps to link a positive aspect in the child’s mind to the unknown future. Even though most kids get a lot from Santa they don’t get everything from their list. This teaches them that even if they are “good all year” they won’t always get everything they want in life. And a final lesson of opening presents is the need to express gratitude, for the gifts of the present as well as to be grateful for the best aspects of our traditions and culture.
- Turning the House into a Temple: decorating for Christmas is one of the greatest spiritual acts most people do without even being aware of it. The Christmas decorations are a mixture of Christian and Ancient symbols. When you decorate with garland, holly, mistletoe and the Christmas tree along with the lights that accompany them, you are turning you home into a temple to receive the blessings of the Good Mother and the Good Father. This is an ancient idea that is worth preserving. The natural part of these decorations – the evergreen plants represent the GOOD MOTHER – who is dormant outside but the blessings of Life which comes from her, is alive and well inside the home, expressed through the greenery, the warmth of the hearth and through the abundance of food. The Good Father is represented as well in the form of the lights inside and outside the home as well as all of the rituals which have been passed down through the millennia which help people prepare for and survive through the winter. This doesn’t take anything away from the story of Jesus. In fact, the Santa Claus story is complimentary to the story of Jesus, who in archetypal terms is the Redemptive Hero, whose path we should all seek to follow in our own lives.
Children learn through stories. Those who are taught the story of Santa learn some of the most powerful virtues and values the Western System of Thought has to offer. Along with the stories of Christ and Capitalism, the enduring story of Santa Claus helps to create a better now, during the Christmas Holiday Season and also helps to ensure the continued flourishing of the best aspects of Western Culture.
[T]he Christian religion when divested of the rags in which they [the clergy] have inveloped it, and brought to the original purity & simplicity of its benevolent institutor, is a religion of all others most friendly to liberty, science, & the freest expression of the human mind,” Thomas Jefferson
I think that the Santa Claus story should be embraced by all, including Christians. The myth of Santa was inspired by the real life of Saint Nicholas, a Christian, who lived in the 4th century AD. He was famous for giving gifts to those less fortunate. If you believe as James wrote in the Bible “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” : then the Story of Santa is a gift from God and we should all be grateful for that.
Jordan Peterson’s audio version “Maps of Meaning”
Forbes article: Neuroscience and the importance of writing down your goals
Psychology Today: Benefits of Delaying Gratification